Government immigration plan unsuited to Scots' needs

The government's proposed, post-Brexit immigration system poses particular problems for Scotland, Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), has warned.

Edinburgh Scotland skyline
In a speech at the organisation's annual dinner in Edinburgh, she said that Scotland faced particular demographic problems that the immigration system outlined in December's White Paper would simply not solve.“In around 20 years’ time, just one third of the Scottish population will be of working age. This will have profound implications for Scotland, its tax base and public services," she said.

Future skill shortage predicted

“Three-quarters of Scottish businesses expect to hire high-skilled workers in coming years. Yet nearly two-thirds fear Scotland won’t have the people to fill them... from hospitals to housebuilders, R&D to renewables.“And this is why the UK government’s post-Brexit immigration proposals are troubling."
She said that the White Paper implied skilled workers coming to Scotland from abroad might have to earn £30,000-plus, yet the Scottish median salary currently stands at less than £24,000.“Last year, I said that rather than debating the devolution of immigration, our focus should be on a single system that receives a unanimous welcome from all parts of the UK," Ms Fairbairn told business leaders. 

UK government immigration proposals unworkable

“The bad news is there is a unanimous view, and it’s that the UK government immigration proposals don’t work for any part of the UK. But that does not mean we should give up just yet. In fact, we’re working closely with the Home Office on exactly this."
She said the CBI was pressing for a lower salary threshold across the UK and for a route for overseas workers that recognises the economic importance of all skill levels.“The proposed 12-month temporary visa idea risks harming integration and productivity," she added, saying that the new immigration system must also be affordable and accessible, particularly for SMEs.“Get this right, and we can build a system that works. But get it wrong and – let’s be frank – calls for Scottish flexibility on immigration will only increase.”

The challenges of automation

On the need to tackle the challenges of automation, Ms Fairbairn said the CBI was working on a plan for the future with the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC).“The rise of new technology will be felt by everyone. And what will define companies – as much as countries – is how they respond to and shape that change," she said.“Get it wrong, and automation could be a threat to employment. Get it right, and both the number and quality of jobs could rise.

Education matters

“So together with the STUC, we wrote to the Scottish Government making three proposals. First, that in the face of new technology, education matters, not just in Scotland, but across the developed world.“Long-gone are the days when we could expect teachers to give people all the skills they’ll need. The rate of change is too fast – we need people learning throughout their careers.“We need colleges and universities able to welcome people back later in life – with the funding to pay for it. And – above all – (we need) businesses that invest not just in training, but in retraining – perhaps repeatedly throughout people’s careers.“Second, we agreed with the STUC that we need to work together, as the scale of the change we’re facing is so rapid it demands unity across society.“Third – a strategy for Scottish civil society for meeting the challenges of technology and turning them into opportunity.

Building bridges between old and new roles

“It means identifying the roles most likely to be affected and new roles that will be created, then building a bridge between the two.“It can’t be done by government, business, or trade unions alone, but by each working together.“And if we get this right, automation and digitisation can be as important an economic leap forward as the industrial revolution."
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